The Arm-chair at the Inn/Chapter 10

X
IN WHICH WE ENTERTAIN A JAIL-BIRD

THAT effect madame’s story had made upon Lemois became at once an absorbing question. He had listened intently with deferential inclination of the head, and when she had finished had risen from his seat and thanked her calmly with evident sincerity, but whether he was merely paying a tribute to her rare skill—and she told her story extremely well, and with such rapid changes of tones and gestures that every situation and character stood out in relief—or because he was grateful for a new point of view in Mignon’s case, was still a mystery to us. While she was being bundled up by Herbert and Louis for her ride home, Marc had delivered himself of the opinion that Mignon would have her lover in the end; that nothing madame had ever tried to do had failed when once she set her heart and mind to work, and that the banns might as well be published at once. But, then, Marc would have begun to set nets for larks and bought both toaster and broiler had the same idol of his imagination predicted an immediate fall of the skies. That his inamorata was twenty years his senior made no difference to the distinguished impressionist; that Marc was twenty years her junior made not the slightest difference to madame—nor did Marc himself, for that matter. All good men were comrades to her—and Marc was one: further she never went. Her rule of life was freedom of thought and action, and absolute deference to her whims, however daring and foolish.

Nor did the marquise herself enlighten us further as to what she thought of Mignon’s love affairs or Lemois’ narrow matrimonial views. She had become suddenly intent on having the smashed villa pulled uphill and set on its legs again, with Marc as adviser and Le Blanc’s friend, The Architect, as director-in-chief—an appointment which blew into thin air that gentleman’s determination to put into dramatic form the new Robinson Crusoe of which Herbert had told us, with Goringe, the explorer, as star, the lady remarking sententiously that she had definite reasons for the restoration and wanted the work to begin at once and to continue with all possible speed.

This last Le Blanc told us the next day when he returned in madame’s motor, bringing with him an old friend of his—a tall, sunburned, grizzly bearded man of fifty, with overhanging eyebrows shading piercing brown eyes, firm, well-buttressed nose, a mouth like a ruled line—so straight was it—and a jaw which used up one-third of his face. When they entered Herbert was standing with his back to the room. An instant later the stranger had him firmly by the hand.

“I heard you were here, Herbert,” he cried joyously, “but could hardly believe it. By Jove! It’s good to see you again! When was the last time, old man?—Borneo, wasn’t it?—in that old shack outside the town, and those devils howling for all they were worth.”

Introductions over, he dropped into a chair, took a pipe from his pocket, and in a few minutes was as much a part of the coterie as if we had known him all his life: his credentials of accomplishment, of pluck, of self-sacrifice, of endurance and skill were accepted at sight; the hearty welcome he gave Herbert, and the way his eyes shone with the joy of meeting him, completing the last and most important requirement on our list—good-fellowship. That he had lived outside the restrictions of civilization was noticeable in his clothes, which were of an ancient cut and looked as if they had just been pulled out of a trunk where they had lain in creases for years, which was true, for during the past decade he had been acting Engineer-in-Chief of one section of the great dam on the Nile, and was now home on leave. He had, he told us, left London the week before, had crossed with his car at Dieppe, and was making a run down the coast by way of Trouville when he bumped into Le Blanc and, hearing Herbert was within reach, had made bold to drop in upon us.

When Mignon and Leà had cleared the table, dinner being over, and the coffee had been served—and somehow the real talk always began after the coffee—for then Lemois was with us—Herbert looked at The Engineer long and searchingly, a covetous light growing in his eyes—the look of a housed sailor sniffing the brine on a comrade’s reefer just in from the sea—and said dryly:

“Are you glad to get home?”

“Yes and no. My liver had begun to give out and they sent me to England for a few months, but I shall have to go back, I’m afraid, before my time is up. Gets on my nerves here—too much sand on the axles—too much friction and noise—such a lot of people, too, chasing bubbles. Seems queer when you’ve been away from it as long as I have. How do you stand it, old man?”

Herbert tapped the table-cloth absently with the handle of his knife and remarked slowly:

“I don’t stand it. I lie down and let it roll over me. If I ever thought about it at all I’d lose my grip. Sometimes a longing to be again in the jungle sweeps over me—to feel its dangers—its security—its genuineness and freedom from all shams, if you will”—and a strange haunting look settled in his eyes.

“But you always used to dream of getting home; I’ve lain awake by the hour and heard you talk.”

“Yes, I know,” he answered rousing himself, “it was a battle even in those days. I would think about it and then decide to stay a year or two longer; and then the hunger for home would come upon me again and I’d begin to shape things so I could get back to England. Sometimes it took a year to decide—sometimes two or three—for you can’t get rid of that kind of a nightmare in a minute.”

“You were different from me, Herbert,” remarked Le Blanc. “You went to the wilds because you loved them; I went because they locked the front and back gates on me. I suppose I deserved it, for nobody got much sleep when I was twenty. But it sounds funny to have you say it would take you two years to make up your mind whether you’d come home or not. It wouldn’t have taken me five seconds.”

“Sometimes it didn’t take that long,” and a quick laugh escaped Herbert’s lips as if to conceal his serious mood. “Those things depend on how you feel and what has started your thinking apparatus to working. I walked out of a kraal in Australia one summer’s night when the home-hunger was on me and never stopped until I reached Sydney—the last hundred miles barefoot. You must have known about it, for I met you right after”—and he turned to The Engineer, who nodded in an amused way. “That was before we struck Borneo, if I remember?”

“Why barefooted, Herbert?” asked Louis, hitching his chair the closer.

“Because the soles and heels were gone and the uppers were all that were left.”

“Tell them about it, Herbert,” remarked The Engineer with a smile, pulling away at his pipe.

“Oh, if you would, Monsieur Herbert! I tried to tell Monsieur High-Muck about it the night you arrived, but Monsieur Louis’ horn put it out of my head. It is better that he hears it from you”—and the old man’s lip quivered, his face lighting up with admiration. Herbert was his high-priest in matters of this kind.

“There is really nothing to tell,” returned Herbert. “I was tending cattle for a herdsman at the time up in the hills—I and a friend of mine. We had both run away from our ships and were trying the rolling country for a change, when one of those irresistible, overwhelming attacks of homesickness seized me, and without caring a picayune what became of me, I turned short on my tracks and struck out for the coast. A man does that sort of thing sometimes. I had no money and only the clothes on my back, but I knew the railroad was some forty miles away, and that when I reached it I could work my passage into civilization and from there on to London.

“The weather was warm and I slept in a cow shack when I found one, and in the bushes when they got scarce. Finally I reached the railroad. I had never tried stealing a ride, sleeping on the trucks, hiding in freight cars, and being put off time and again until the next town was reached—I had never tried it because it had never been necessary, and then I hated that sort of thing. But I had no objection to asking for a lift, telling the agent or conductor the whole story, and I did it regularly at every station I passed on foot, only to get the customary oath or jeering laugh. After I had walked about sixty miles I came upon a water station known as Merton, with a goods train standing by. This time I asked for a ride on the tender. The engineer met my request with a vacant stare—never taking his pipe from his mouth. The fireman was a different sort of man. He not only listened to my story, but handed me part of the contents of his dinner pail wrapped up in a newspaper—which I was glad to get, and told him so. Before the train had gone fifty yards she was side-tracked for orders—which gave me another chance to get at the fireman. ‘I may lose my job if I do,’ he said, ‘but I’ve been up against it myself; come around a little later; it’ll be dark soon and something may turn up.’

“Something did turn up. While the engineer was oiling under his engine I got a wink from the fireman, climbed on the tender, crept beneath a tarpaulin, and rooted down in the coal. There, tired out, I fell asleep. I was awakened by the whistle of the locomotive, and then came the slow wheeze of the cylinder head, and we were off. Sleeping on a hard plank under a car going thirty miles an hour is a spring mattress to lying in a pile of coal with lumps as big as your head grinding into your back. Now and then the fireman—not my particular friend, but a man who had replaced him as I discovered when we whizzed past the light of a station—would ram his shovel within reach of my ribs—just missing me. But I didn’t mind—every mile meant that much nearer home and less tramping in the heat and dust to get there. If I could manage to keep hidden until we reached Sydney I should gain one hundred—maybe two hundred—miles before morning.

“About midnight we came to a halt, followed by a lot of backing and filling—shunting here and there. The safety-valve was thrown wide open, or the exhaust, or something else, and suddenly the steam went out of her. Then came a dead silence—not a sound of any kind. Sore as I was—and every bone in my body ached—I wrenched myself loose, lifted the edge of the tarpaulin, and peeped out. The engine and tender were backed up against a building which looked like a round-house; not a soul was in sight. I slid to the ground and began to peer around. After a moment I caught the swing of a lantern and heard the steps of a man. It was a watchman going his rounds.

“‘Warm night,’ he hollered when he came abreast of me. He evidently took me for a fireman, and I didn’t blame him, for I was black as soot—clothes, face, hands, and hair.

“‘Yes,’ I said, and stopped. It wouldn’t do to undeceive him. Then I remembered the name of the station where I had boarded the tender. ‘Been hot all the way from Merton. How far is that from Sydney?’

“‘Oh, a devil of a way!’ He lifted his lantern and held it to my face. ‘Say, you ain’t no fireman—you’re a hobo, ain’t ye?’

“I nodded.

“‘And you’re p’inted for Sydney? Well, it serves ye right for stealin’ a ride; you’re eighty-two miles further away than when ye started. That locomotive is a special and got return orders.’”

The Engineer threw back his head and roared.

“Yes, that’s it, Herbert. I remember just how you looked when we ran against each other in Sydney.”

“Not barefooted, were you, old fellow?” remarked Louis in a sympathetic tone. “That was tough.”

“Barefooted? Not much!” exclaimed The Engineer. “He was quite a nob. That’s why I made up to him; he was so much better dressed than I. And do you know, Herbert, I never heard a word of you from that time on until I struck one of your statues in the Royal Academy the other day. I never thought you’d turn out sculptor with medals and things. Thought you wanted more room to swing around in. This is something new, isn’t it?”

Herbert took his freshly lighted cigar from his mouth long enough to say, “About as new as your building dams. You were trying to get into the real-estate business when I bid you good-by in Sydney. Did it work?”

“No, I got into jail instead.”

Everybody stared.

“What was it all about?” asked Herbert, unperturbed.

“Stealing!”

“Stealing!” exclaimed Le Blanc.

“Yes. That was about it,” he answered. “Only this time I tried to bag a government and got locked up for my pains. One of your countrymen”—and he nodded toward me—“was mixed up in it. By the way”—and he rose from his chair—“you don’t mind my taking this candle, do you?—I’ve been looking at something in that cabinet over there all the evening and I can’t stand it any longer. I may be wrong, but they look awfully like it.”

He had reached the carved triptych, and was holding the flame of the candle within a few inches of a group of tiny figures—some of Lemois’ most precious carvings—one the figure of a man with a gun.

“Just as I thought. Prison work, isn’t it, Monsieur Lemois? Yes—of course it is—I see the tool marks. Made of soup bones. Oh, very good indeed—best I have ever seen. Where did you get this?”

“They were made by the French prisoners in Moscow,” answered Lemois, who had also risen from his seat and was now standing beside him. “But how did you know?” he asked in astonishment. “Most of my visitors, if they look at them at all, think they are Chinese.”

“Because no one, if he can get ivory, makes a thing like this of bone”—and he held it up to our gaze—“and everybody out of jail who has this skill can get ivory. I’ve made a lot myself—never as fine as these—this man must have been an expert. I used to keep from going crazy by doing this sort of thing—that and the old dodge of taming fleas so they’d eat out of my hand. What a pile of good stuff you have here—regular museum”—and with a searching, comprehensive glance he replaced the candle and regained his chair.

I bent forward and touched his elbow.

“We’ve entertained all sorts of people here,” I said with a laugh, “but I think this is the first time we have ever had an out-and-out ticket-of-leave man. Do you mind telling us how it happened?”

“No; but it wouldn’t interest you. Just one of those fool scrapes a fellow gets into when he is chucked out neck and heels into the world.”

Brierley drew his chair closer—so did Louis and Le Blanc.

Herbert glanced toward his friend. “Let them have it, old man. We promise not to set the dogs on you.”

“Thanks. But it wouldn’t be the first time. Well, all right if it won’t bore you. Now let me think”—and he lifted his weather-bronzed face, made richer by the glow of the candles overhead, and began scratching his grizzly beard with his forefinger.

“It was after you left Borneo, Herbert, that I came across two fellows—Englishmen—who told me of some new gold diggings on the west coast, and I was fool enough to join them, working my passage on one of the home-going tramp steamers. Well, we thrashed about for six months and landed on one of the small islands in the Caribbean Sea—the name of which I forget—where we left the ship and hid until she disappeared. The gold fever was well out of us by that time, and, besides, I had gotten tired of scrubbing decks and my two fellow tramps of washing dishes. The port was a regular coaling station and some other craft would come along; if not, we could stay where we were. The climate was warm, bananas were cheap and plenty; we were entirely fit, and—like many another lot of young chaps out for a lark—did not care a tinker’s continental what happened. That, if you think about it, is the high-water mark of happiness—to be perfectly well, strong, twenty-five years of age, and ready for anything that bobs up.

“This time it was a small schooner with a crew of about one hundred men, instead of the customary ten or twelve. A third of them came ashore, bought provisions and water, and were about to shove off to the vessel again, when one of my comrades recognized the mate as an old friend. He offered to take us with them, and in half an hour we had gathered together our duds and had pushed off with the others. The following week we ran into a sheltered cove, where we began landing our cargo. Then it all came out: we were loaded to the scuppers with old muskets in cases, some thousand rounds of ammunition, and two small, muzzle-loading field-guns. There was a revolution in Boccador—one of the small South American republics—they have them every year or so—and we were part of the insurgent navy! If we were caught we were shot; if we got a new flag on top of Government House in the capital of San Josepho, we would have a plantation apiece and negroes enough to run it. It sounded pleasant, didn’t it?

“I’m not going into all the details—it’s the story of the jail you want, not the revolution. Well, we had two weeks of tramping up to our waists in the swamps; three days of fighting, in which one of the field-guns blew off its nose, killing the mate; and the next thing I knew, my two companions and I were looking down the muzzles of a dozen rifles held within three feet of our heads. That ended it and we were marched into town and locked up in the common jail—and rightly named, I tell you, for a filthier or more deadly hole I never got into. It was a square, two-story building—all four sides to the town—with a patio, or court, in the centre. Outside was a line of sentries and inside were more sentries and a couple of big dogs.

“They put us on the ground floor with a murderous-looking chap for guard. As the place was packed with prisoners, we three were shoved into one cell. Every morning at daylight one or two—once six—poor devils were led out; the big gate was opened, and then there would come a rattling of rifle-shots, and when the six came back they were on planks with sheets over them. All this we could see by standing on each other’s shoulders and looking over the grating.

“Our turn came the morning of the seventh day. The door was unlocked and we were ordered to fall in. But we didn’t go through the big outer gate; we were led to a door across the yard and into a bare room where another murderous-looking chap, in a dirty uniform with shoulder-straps and a sword, sat at a table. On either side of him were two more ruffians, one with an inkstand. Not a man Friday of them spoke anything but Spanish. When we were pushed in front of his highness in shoulder-straps, he looked us over keenly and began whispering to the man with the ink. Then to my surprise—and before either I or my two friends—one of whom spoke a little Spanish—could utter a protest—right-about-face, and we were hustled back into our cell and locked up again.

“For three days and nights the usual jail things happened: We had two meals a day—bone soup and a hunk of mouldy bread; the guard tramped in the dust outside our cell, while at night another took his place—the dogs prowling or sniffing at the crack of our door; at daylight the rifle-shots!

“We had started to work for our release by that time, and by persistent begging got a sheet of paper, and, with the help of my companion, I wrote a letter to ‘his Excellenza,’ as the guard called his nibs, informing him that we were English tourists who had taken passage for sheer love of adventure, and demanding that our case be brought to the attention of the English consul.

“One week passed and then a second before we were informed by the head jailer that there was no English consul, and that if there had been it would have made no difference, as we had been taken with arms in our hands, and that but for some inquiries put on foot by his Excellenza we would have been shot long ago.

“So the hours and days dragged on and we had about started in to make our wills when, one morning after our slop coffee had been pushed in to us, the bolts were slid back and the nattiest-looking young fellow you ever laid your eyes on stepped inside. He was about twenty-four, was dressed from head to foot in a suit of white duck, and looked as if he had just cleared the deck of the royal yacht. With him were two slovenly looking functionaries, one of whom carried a note-book. The young fellow eyed us all three, sizing us up with the air of a man accustomed to that sort of thing, and said with an air of authority:

“‘I am the American consul. Your communication was brought to me because your government is not represented here. You’re in a bad fix, but I’ll help you out if I can. Now tell me all about it.’

“Tell him about it! Why, we nearly fell on his neck, and before he left he had our whole story in his head and a lot of our letters and cards in his clothes. They might be of use, he said, in proving that we had not, by any means, started out to undermine his Supreme Highness’s government. But that under fear of death—and he winked meaningly—we had been compelled to take up arms against the most illustrious republic of Boccador.

“Nine long, weary months passed after this and not another human being crossed our threshold except the head jailer. When we bombarded him with questions about the fellow who had passed himself off as the American consul, and who had stolen our letters and had never shown up since—damn him!—we had all learned to speak a little Spanish by this time—he pretended not to hear and, his inspection over, locked the door behind him. Pretty soon we fell into the ways of all disheartened prisoners—each man following the bent of his nature. I warded off sickening despair by carving with my pocket-knife—which they let me keep as being too small to do them any harm—little figures out of the beef bones I found in my soup. That’s how I came to recognize those in Monsieur Lemois’ cabinet. When I was lucky enough to get hold of a knuckle bone with a rounded knob at the end, I made a friar with a bald head, the smooth knob answering for his pate. Other bones were turned into grotesque figures of men, women, and animals. These I gave to the sentry, who sent them to his children. Often he brought me small pieces of calico and I made dresses and trousers for them. When I got tired of that I trained two fleas—and they were plenty—to play leap-frog up my arm.

“When these little diversions failed to drive dull care away, we passed the time cursing the gentleman in the immaculate cotton ducks. He had either lied to us, or was dead, or had been transferred—anyway, he had gone back on us and left us to rot in jail.

"At last we determined to escape.

"We had made that same resolution every day for months and had planned out half a dozen schemes, some of which might have been successful but for two difficulties—the double guard on the outside of the building and the two dogs in the jail-yard. There was now but one chance of success. We would dig a hole in the dirt floor clear under the wall, watch for a stormy night, and make a break for the town and the coast, where we might be able to signal some trading craft and so get away.

"So we started to digging, beginning on the side opposite the door—our utensils being a sharpened bone, my pocket-knife, and a bayonet which had dropped from a sentry’s scabbard, and which I managed to pick up on our exercise walk in the court-yard and conceal in the straw on which we slept. This straw too helped hide the dirt. We rammed the wisps up into each end of the pallets, put the excavated earth in the middle with a dusting of loose straw over it, and so hid our work from view. At the end of a month we had a hole under the wall large enough to wriggle in. I could see the daylight through the loose earth on the other side. Then we waited for a storm, the rainy season being on and thunder showers frequent. Two, three, four nights went by without a cloud; then it began to pour. We determined to try it just before the guards were changed. This was at 2 a. m. by the church clock. The outgoing sentry would be tired then and the new man not thoroughly awake.

“When the hour came I crawled in head first, worked myself to the end of the tunnel, and, putting out my hands to break away the remaining clods of earth, came bump up against a piece of heavy board. There I lay trembling. The board could never have rolled down from anywhere, nor could our opening have been detected from the outside.

“Somebody had placed it there on purpose!

“I wriggled back feet foremost, whispered in my companions’ ears what I had found, and we all three sat up the rest of the night wondering what the devil it meant. When morning broke, the head jailer came in. I noticed instantly a change in his manner. Instead of a few perfunctory questions, he gave a cursory glance around the cell, his eyes resting on the pile of straw, and turning short on his heel left without a word.

“There was no question now but we were suspected, so we held a council of war and determined to keep quiet—at least for some nights. What was up we didn’t know, but at all events it was best to go slow. So we stuffed most of the dirt back in the hole and waited—our ears open to every sound, our teeth chattering. You get pretty nervous in jail—especially when you have about made up your mind that the next hour is your last.

“We didn’t wait long.

“That afternoon the bolts were slid back and the head jailer, who had never before appeared at that hour, stood in the doorway.

“I thought right away that it was all over with us; that we were discovered and that we were either to be shot or moved to another cell—I really didn’t care which, for instant death could not be much worse than lingering in a South American prison until we were gray-bearded and forgotten.

“The jailer stepped inside, half closed the door, and made this announcement:

“‘The American consul is outside and wants to see you.’ Then he stepped out, leaving the door open.

“They have a way of coaxing you to escape down in that country and then filling you full of lead. It’s justifiable murder when sometimes a trial and conviction might raise unpleasant international questions. We all three looked at each other and instantly decided not to swallow the bait. The American consul dodge had been tried when they wanted to get legal possession of our letters. So it isn’t surprising that we didn’t believe him. Then, to my astonishment, I caught through the crack of the door a suit of white duck, and the natty young man stepped in.

“‘I’ve been down the coast,’ he began as chipper as if he was apologizing for not having called after we had invited him to dinner, ‘or I should have been here before. I have a permit from the governor to come as often as I like, or as often as you would be glad to see me. I must tell you, however, that I am pledged to keep faith with the authorities, and it is their confidence in me which has gained me this privilege. I can bring you nothing to eat or drink, no tools or knickknacks or any bodily comforts. I can only bring myself. This I have told his Excellenza, who has his orders, and who understands.’ Then he turned to the jailer. ‘Get me a stool and I will stay a while with them. You can leave the door open; I will be responsible that none of them attempts to escape.’

“When the jailer was out of hearing, he passed around cigarettes, lighted his own, and started in to tell us the news of the day: what was going on in town and country; how the revolution had been put down; how many insurgents had been shot, exiled, or sent to horrible prisons—worse than ours, which, he informed us, was really only a sort of police station and unsafe except for the dogs and the guards, who were picked men and who had never been known to neglect their duty. Only the year before five men had attempted to dig their way out and had been shot as they were climbing the outside wall—rather dispiriting talk for us, to say the least, but it was talk, and that was what we hungered for, especially as his spirits never flagged.

“All this was more or less entertaining, and he would have had our entire confidence but for two things which followed, and which we could not understand. One was that he always chose rainy or stormy nights for his subsequent visits, dropping in on us at all hours, when we least expected him; and the other that he never referred to what was being done for our release. That he would not discuss.

“By and by we began to grow uneasy and suspect him. One of the men insisted that he was too damned polite to be honest, and that the American consul yarn was a put-up job. Anyway, he was getting tired of it all. It would take him but half an hour to dig the loose earth out of the tunnel, and he was going to begin right away if he went at it alone.

“We at once fell to, working like beavers, digging with everything we had—our fingers bleeding—until we had cleaned out the dirt to the plank. Then we crawled back and waited for the consul’s customary visit. After that was over—no matter how long it lasted—we’d make the dash.

“He came on the minute; and this time, to our intense disgust, brought his guitar—said he thought we might like a little music—and without so much as by-your-leave opened up with negro melodies and native songs, the instrument resting in the hollow of his knee, one leg crooked over the other, a cigarette stuck tight to his lower lip.

“Hour after hour went by and still he sang on—French, German, Italian—anything and everything—rolling out the songs as if we had been so many classmates at a college supper. Charming, of course, had we not had a hole behind us and freedom within sight.

“Hints, yawns, even blunt proposals to let us go to bed, had no effect. Further than these we dared not go. We were afraid to turn him out bodily lest we should be suspected of trying to get rid of him for a purpose. To have let him into the secret was also out of the question. Better wait until he was gone.

“Would you believe it, he never left until broad daybreak, his confounded irritating cheerfulness keeping up to the last, even to his tossing his fingers to us in good-by, quite as he might have done to his sweetheart.

“At eight o’clock on that same morning, not more than two hours after he had left, there came a bang at the door with a sword-hilt, the bolts were drawn, and we were marched into the court-yard between five soldiers in command of a sergeant. Then came the orders to fall in, and we were pushed into the same room where, nearly a year before, we had been examined by the ruffian in shoulder-straps and sent back to our cell.

“And here I must say that, for the first time since our capture, I lost all hope. Five men for three of us, and two of the cartridges blank!

“The squad closed in and we were lined up in front of a table before another black-haired, greasy, villanous-looking reptile who read the death-warrant, as near as I could make out—he spoke so fast. Then he rose from his seat, bowed stiffly, and left the room. Next the sergeant saluted us, ordered his men to fall in, and left the room. Then the jailer stepped forward, shook our hands all around, and left the room.

“We were free!

“Outside, in the broad glare of the scorching sun, his boyish face in a broad grin, stood the consul, looking as if he had just stepped out of a bandbox.

“‘I am sorry you found me such a bore last night,’ he said, gay and debonair as an old beau at a wedding, ‘but there was nothing else to do. If I’d gone home earlier and let you crawl out of that hole, you would have been shot to a dead certainty. I knew a month ago you were at work on it, and when it was nearly finished I got permission to drop in on you. The plank that you ran up against I had put there with the help of the jailer. It was meant to keep you quiet until my mail got in. I was helpless, of course, to assist you until it did, being my government’s representative. It arrived yesterday, informing me that our State Department has taken up your cases with your government and has entered a formal protest. Now all of you come over to the consulate, and let me see what I can do to fix you out with some clothes and things.

“‘After that we’ll have breakfast.’”